The Loyola Meralco Sparks’ bid for second place fell short, as Stallion FC managed to hold on until the last minute to keep a 2-2 draw, yesterday, at the Rizal Memorial Stadium. The result pushed the club one point higher in the standings, but not enough to overtake Ceres-La Salle due to an inferior goal difference.
With the AFC Cup slot at stake, Loyola entered the match with one goal in mind — to win and take maximum points. However, the match got off to a disastrous start for the Sparks, as Stallion’s Fitch Arboleda scored from a spectacular strike 50 seconds into the game. Anto Gonzales lost track of a high bouncing ball, allowing just enough space for Arboleda to let loose a fiery low effort that nestled into the bottom left corner.
The early goal triggered the Sparks to aggressively hunt for the equalizer, but it wasn’t until right before half-time that the score was leveled. After surviving a few close calls where Stallion could’ve doubled the lead, Kouichi Belgira’s cross was turned in by David Basa to ensure equal footing heading into the final 45 minutes.
Loyola started the second period in a more threatening mood, but it was Stallion once again that scored first. Ruben Doctora broke free from his marker and fired in a low strike to make it 2-1.
64 minutes into the game, Jason de Jong was introduced into the game and he provided the midfield transition that was lacking. The Sparks found the equalizer a minute after his entry, as an open Greatwich fired in a beautifully taken shot from way outside the box.
The game flowed to the Sparks side after Greatwich’s goal, leading to a flurry of attacks in search of the go ahead. Unfortunately for Loyola, the late bomardment of Stallion’s defense could not alter the 2-2 score line.
Despite the draw, head coach, Simon McMenemy commended the hard work done by the team.
“We could be proud of the fight we put up this season. We’ve worked when we were down in numbers. We battled the whole way through the season and we kept the fight going all the way to the last day,” he said after the game.
With some players missing or injured, one factor that also contributed to the draw was being forced to place players out of position.
“This team, with Ace (Villanueva) in goal and Anto (Gonzales) in at centerback [isn’t usual], and we’re also playing with two fullbacks who haven’t played the position before. We’ve been working so hard and the boys have been doing really well and I think today, it just wasn’t our day today,” McMenemy added.
With the whole UFL season coming to an end and the news of a new league coming, the Sparks will embark on an extended break. The PFF National League is set to start in the middle of March next year.